The Nashville Symphony Celebrates Bernstein

Credit: Sally Bebawy/Nashville Symphony

Last Saturday, September 8th, at the opening of the 2018-19 season and the tenth year of Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero’s tenure, the Nashville Symphony revealed a bronze sculpture of its prized conductor. The sculpture, commissioned from artist Alici

Ponzio of the Hayne’s Gallery, resides now in the foyer of Schermerhorn and serves as a a wonderful welcome to people as they arrive into the hall. At the reception and reveal it was delightful to see the Maestro positively, and humbly, beam at all of the attention, but then look quizzically at the bust. Considering that Guerrero is a Grammy award winning conductor and champion of American classical music, the fact that the following performance was an evening dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s life seemed perfectly appropriate.

The evening opened with Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town. Arranged from the composer’s first show of the same name, the work is an excellent example of Bernstein’s adaptation of the blues for the symphonic stage. The range of events, from the excitement of a celebration in Times Square to a contrasting darker central section which the composer himself described as: “…both tender and sinister, in which a sensitive high-school girl in Central Park is lured and then cast off by a worldly sailor” make for a very exciting piece, and the Symphony stepped up to the challenge with a performance that was equal parts exciting and moving. Special mention goes to the saxophone solos performed by Don Aliquo. Similarly, the Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront frames a central intimate section depicting a pair of lovers with an aggressive depiction of urban reality. As Maestro Guererro stated in at the beginning, these are all pieces everyone knows, and the smiles from the audience at intermission said as much.

Sasha Cooke: Photo by Dario Acosta

Indeed, after intermission, the Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah” was the one work I was not acquainted with before the concert. Begun after his graduation from Harvard in 1939 as a single movement work as a setting of Hebrew excerpts from The Book of Lamentations, in 1942 Bernstein decided to expend it into a larger symphonic work with two preceding movements. Jeremiah, a Hebrew Prophet who foresaw the destruction of the Temple, his lamentations depict the isolation of the Hebrew nation after this catastrophe. Indeed, Bernstein described it as: the third movement “…is the cry of Jeremiah, as he mourns his beloved Jerusalem, ruined, pillaged and dishonored after his desperate efforts to save it.” In this mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke performed with a tragic clarity and sorrowful warmth that marked this movement and the best of the evening.

Like the two pieces from before intermission, Guerrero arranged the evening with an inner intimate movement (the Symphony) framed by exciting a bawdy outer pieces. This concert closed with a rousing rendition of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. All sections performed wonderfully, and the exciting shout of “mambo” brought chills. From the intimacy of “Somewhere” to the excitement of the “Rumble” this work made the expressive strengths of our hometown ensemble clear, all further exemplified by the encore performance of the overture to Candide. In all it was a great season opener from the NSO, and it looks like it is going to be a great year. The season continues next weekend with a performance of the rarely heard first Symphony by John Corigliano and Emanuel Ax’s return to Nashville to perform Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto.

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